April 27, 2013
Part 1 of 2
20.3 miles total
There are very few days when nearly everyone I see while riding is visibly happy, just excited about the day. Today was one of those magnificent days. Seventy-plus degree weather finally arriving to chase the never-ending winter and snow away will do that. Not only were lots of people out in every neighborhood that I visited, most had a smile, wave or hello for me. What a day to be out!
Today’s trip was to Payne-Phalen via Downtown. I’ve been avoiding Downtown, not because I don’t want to ride there, but because it’s a formidable task to write about the concentration of notable buildings, history and tales I expect to find. My strategy is to take it a street or two at a time on my way to another neighborhood.
Several miles into the excursion I rode east past Linwood Recreation Center on St. Clair Avenue where Parks and Rec employees were readying a portable climbing wall. Nearby, several excited children and their parents were waiting to try it.
Alex (pronounced Alec) Glass has worked for the Parks and Recreation Department for 26 years and is now a recreation director. He told me this is the sixth year he’s brought the climbing wall to Linwood’s Spring Celebration.
“I think when we first came out here by the end of the day, we probably did 150 climbs or so. As of last year, we were in the 300 climb range.”
City-wide, Alex says they’ve gone from 25 events and 2,500 climbs to 67 events with 23,000 climbs in 2012. The portable climbing wall is one example of Park and Rec’s philosophy change. “It used to be get ‘em to the center. Now its about engaging folks where they’re comfortable at and then making a connection to the bigger system.”
As recreation director, Alex and his employees are responsible for much more than the climbing wall, “We schedule all of the classes that happen in all of the rec centers, hire those instructors, do trainings, we write curriculum for after-school and our summer programs, (and) staff development for those programs.”
Alex is an unabashed supporter of Saint Paul Parks and Rec programs. “I challenge you go to almost any other state in this nation and find a system as extensive or as accommodating as ours. We believe in participation; that’s why so many things are free.”
As a life-long Saint Paul resident, Alex is just as enthusiastic about his town. “This is a great family place, it’s clean, great education, great health. I think that If people are honest about the five most important things to themselves and their family, they’re here in Saint Paul.”
With climbers lining up, I excused myself and resumed riding east on St. Clair and toward Downtown.
Less than a block away, on the 300 block of Goodrich Avenue…
Downtown at last, at the corner of Wabasha Avenue and Exchange Street. What was once the Science Museum of Minnesota has been the Twin Cities home of the Church of Scientology since October 2011.
Across the street, on the west side of Wabasha, is another of Saint Paul’s numerous institutions of high learning. McNally Smith College of Music offers programs and degrees in music performance, recording technology, music business, hip-hop studies, and composition and songwriting to about 600 students, according to the school’s website.
The red brick building in the background is the Elmer L. Andersen Department of Human Services Building. It is named in honor of the former Republican Governor and state Senator. Andersen’s political endeavors are just a small part of his extensive resume. The Minnesota Historical Society has a good biography of Andersen at http://www.mnhs.org/people/governors/gov/gov_32.htm
A gentleman who I soon learned is named Jesse, greeted me with a friendly smile and hello as I took some pictures. Jesse and I talked for a couple of minutes while he waited for a bus back to his St. Anthony-Midway home.
I asked Jesse if he’s always so friendly to strangers and told me he is. “You know, when I meet people in the store, I just speak to them. Old ladies and young folks, you know. ‘Hey young man, how you doin’?’ You know, just speak to someone, even if they don’t speak back.”
Jesse wasn’t always outgoing, he told me. “I had to grow into all of this. You know, gettin’ peaceful with my self and just accepting things the way they are. My days of thinking about getting rich are still there but I’m not chasing them, you know what I’m sayin’. I’ll be 55 this year and I’m just kinda mellowin’ into life.
Jesse was very candid in the couple of minutes we chatted. He mentioned matter-of-factly that he lives in Saint Paul in a homeless shelter near University Avenue on Saint Paul’s western edge.
(I’ve had) “a hard background but no matter where you come from believe me, you have choices. And the best choice for me is to look in the Word-the Word helps.”
Jesse added that he wants to go back to the Hubbs Center to resume his quest for his G.E.D. “I stopped ‘cause I was looking for work, I was kinda figuring out what I want to do.”
“My readin’ is getting better. You know, school work is getting better but I didn’t spend too much time in school but I had to learn that with patience too. It’s hard, especially for an older person.”
Just as Jesse finished that thought, his bus arrived. He paused another moment to allow me to photograph him, we thanked each other and he jumped on the bus.
The Saint Paul Fire Department’s new Station 8 is located in the eastern end of the Anderson Human Resources Building. Open just a couple of years, Station 8 moved to 65 East 10th Street from the old Fire Department headquarters just across Minnesota Street. (Department headquarters are now in the same building as Station 1 at West Seventh and Randolph Avenue.)
The Penfield, in developers’ jargon, is called a “mixed-use project”. That means there will be multiple facilities, in this case about 300 “market rate” apartments and a Lund’s Grocery Store, in the complex.
Originally proposed as a 30 story condo project, that version of the Penfield fell victim to the crash of the housing market. In a controversial move, the City of Saint Paul became the developer for the $62 million dollar Penfield instead of a private company to get the project off the drawing board.
From Downtown, I continued to trek eastward toward Payne Avenue and the Railroad Island neighborhood. Details of the rest of today’s ride will come in part 2 of this post. Meanwhile, here is the map of the entire ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/199326574